Isaac Meyer

Historian, teacher, podcaster

Tag: Genji

Episode 270 – A Brief and Fleeting Dream

This week, we cover the life and work of one of Japan’s most famous authors: the 11th century courtier Murasaki Shikibu. Why do we know so little about who she was? What inspired her to write Genji? Why do I dislike her work so viscerally? And how did it become so famous?

Sources

Shriane, Haruo, editor. Envisioning the Tale of Genji: Media, Gender, and Cultural Production.

Shirane, Haruo. A Bridge of Dreams: The Poetics of the Tale of Genji.

Bowring, Richard, trans. The Diary of Lady Murasaki.

Images

For Edo period Japanese who did not want to slog through the original classical Japanese, there were emaki — illustrated versions — of the story of Genji. This scene is from Azumaya,, chapter 50 of the tale.

Another emaki of Genji, this one from the Takekawa chapter. A male courtier (bottom right) steals a glimpse of some lovely ladies.

Cover piece from Nise Murasaki Inaka Genji.

A cover from the manga edition of Genji Monogatari.

Murasaki Shikibu gazes at the moon, being inspired to write the tale of Genji.

In addition to writing Genji, Murasaki Shikibu was also an accomplished poet. One of her poems is included in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, probably the most famous poetry collection in Japan. Her poem (no. 57), as translated by LingWiki: “Meeting on the path / but I cannot clearly know / if it was he / because the midnight moon / in a cloud had disappeared.
This illustrated version shows Murasaki, along with her poem written in phonetic kana above. No contemporary pictures of her exist; she’s labeled as Murasaki, and is wearing purple (the color Murasaki), and that’s how you can tell it’s her.

Episode 4 – The Golden Age of Heian

This week’s episode covers the Heian Period (794-1185 AD). We will be discussing the political structure of the Heian government, the major changes that occured in the period, and the aristocratic culture of the time.

You can listen to the episode here.

Sources:

Totman, A History of Japan.

Morris, Ivan. The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

“Ladies in Rivalry,” by John Delacour. http://weblog.delacour.net/archives/2002/03/ladies_in_rivalry.php

Images (courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation)

Fujiwara no Michinaga was the most powerful power-broker of this era and led the Fujiwara to the height of their power; he dominated Japanese politics during the latter half of the 10th century, and was reputed to be able to enthrone and dethrone emperors at will.

Fujiwara no Michinaga was the most powerful power-broker of this era and led the Fujiwara to the height of their power; he dominated Japanese politics during the latter half of the 10th century, and was reputed to be able to enthrone and dethrone emperors at will.

This is a diorama of Kyoto from the period; right now we're looking north towards the grounds of the Imperial palace.

This is a diorama of Kyoto from the period; right now we’re looking north towards the grounds of the Imperial palace.

This is a map of the central part of Kyoto, constructed during the Heian period. The yellow area is the Imperial palace. The black-and-white striped line is the modern Japan Rail line, and the red area is the modern Kyoto station.

This is a map of the central part of Kyoto, constructed during the Heian period. The yellow area is the Imperial palace. The black-and-white striped line is the modern Japan Rail line, and the red area is the modern Kyoto station.

An image of Sei Shonagon from the Edo Period, approximately 800 years after her death. The writing above her is one of her poems, which is included in the Hyakunin Isshu.

An image of Sei Shonagon from the Edo Period, approximately 800 years after her death. The writing above her is one of her poems, which is included in the Hyakunin Isshu.

According to (a probably untrue) legend, Murasaki Shikibu was inspired to write the Tale of Genji while gazing towards the moon during a visit to a temple. This is an artist's representation of that event from the Edo Period, about 800 years after the fact.

According to (a probably untrue) legend, Murasaki Shikibu was inspired to write the Tale of Genji while gazing towards the moon during a visit to a temple. This is an artist’s representation of that event from the Edo Period, about 800 years after the fact.

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